"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves
and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then
will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal
~ 2 Chronicles 7:14
People regularly email me with questions about how to communicate
with other Christians about liberty and peace. The greatest conundrum
the Christian libertarian has, it seems, is persuading other Christians
to stop supporting the immoral wars that governments perpetrate
across the globe. It is particularly difficult in the United States,
where "supporting the troops" is essentially part of the
new orthodoxy in most evangelical Protestant churches. You can publicly
criticize a minister that he preaches too long and someone will
support you, but say one word criticizing the military (or even
the police) and you become anathema.
It is not as though we cannot defend our position adequately; the
truth is on our side. We can easily bring forth historical
data, ethics, and solid theology to make our case that war is wrong.
This is good and right! We must never cease reasoning with those
who disagree with us, and we should do so with gentleness and respect
(1 Peter 3:15). However, we must admit that a large part of the
problem is not merely failure to reason, but also a failure to show
Christian compassion toward others. Churches all over forget that
war really is hell, and neglect the suffering war causes. This
is especially reflected in our public prayers.
In the past, even
the Southern Baptists took the Word of God seriously and prayed
for those affected by war. But when was the last time you heard
a church pray for anyone in the Middle East, for instance,
other than soldiers? When was the last time you heard a church pray
for an end to war?
Recently, I was moved to step out and try something I have never
heard of done before: ask the leaders of my congregation to take
the lead in praying for those suffering in war. (In the Church of
Christ tradition, the elders are the spiritual leaders of
the congregation.) After consulting with some of my close friends,
I attended the June 2010 elders' meeting and presented the following
letter to them to address the "Prayer for the Church"
that we offer every Sunday morning worship service.
To the Elders of the University
Avenue Church of Christ,
We have noticed an unusual trend over the past few months during
our prayers for the church in Sunday morning worship. On multiple
occasions, we have heard people pray for men and women in the military,
that they receive "special measures of protection" as
they fight to "protect our freedoms" and "serve our
country." While we understand the concerns of church members
who have friends and family in the armed forces, and while we sincerely
hope for their safe return immediately, we find that these kinds
of prayers are neglectful of another group — those victims who suffer
wrongfully from this war, to whom we are indeed responsible in part
for their suffering. Regardless of one's opinion of these wars,
we think that all can agree upon inspection that this practice can
and should change to be more inclusive.
For instance, we never hear prayers for our fellow Christians who
live in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the US invasion in 2003, Christians
who were tolerated in the past have been repeatedly persecuted and
frequently even killed by indiscriminate warfare or surging extremist
groups, and nearly half of the Christian population of 800,000 in
Iraq has either fled the country or died. In March 2010 alone, over
4,000 Christians were displaced from their homes following unrest
in the northern city of Mosul. Many more have confined themselves
to their homes for their own safety.
Moreover, we rarely, if ever, hear prayers for the innocent people
in Iraq that die on a daily basis, either from indiscriminate killing
by our own military or civil unrest that results from a country
torn apart by war. The lowest estimates of non-combatant deaths
in Iraq number greater than 100,000. Unfortunately, over time our
sensibilities and attitudes toward this war — which is now the longest
prolonged conflict in American history — have become desensitized
and lackadaisical, and thus we often forget these innocent people.
We appeal to the elders to lead the way toward recognizing this
issue with two simple proposals. First, we propose to include in
the bulletin prayer requests under "Family Members in the Military"
a mention of the innocent and oppressed in Iraq and Afghanistan,
especially our Iraqi and Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ,
and for an end to these wars. Second, we propose that the elders
take the lead in consistently mentioning the same in prayer with
the congregation on Sunday mornings. If the prayers of the righteous
are powerful and effective, then surely instituting this practice
will do good both for these victims and for our own spirits.
We support this appeal with Scripture in two ways. First, if you
consider these people as we do, that they are innocent victims and
have been wronged by their own leaders, by extremists, and by our
own military, then may we pray to God as Jesus taught his disciples:
to be "delivered from evil." If we can pray this for ourselves,
surely we can do so for others. But second, if you still consider
these people our enemies, then may we do as Jesus said in Matthew
5: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." May this be
the beginning of understanding what Jesus said moments before, "Do
not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also."
Changing our practice to include praying for the oppressed is not
a political statement. In fact, this is not a political issue
in the least; on the contrary it is a moral and theological issue.
If we are to pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,"
then we should take seriously that Jesus came and died to proclaim
peace on earth and to liberate the oppressed. We may expect
that "wars and rumors of wars" will always exist, but
this does not require a condoning or defeatist attitude of such
events. Rather, this understanding should make us more sensitive
and more compassionate toward those who suffer.
To conclude, war is arguably the most destructive human activity
ever devised, and it is an intensely serious moral and theological
issue because of its finality for those involved either directly
as soldiers or indirectly as innocents. It is right to earnestly
pray for our family members participating in war, but let us not
become callous to the suffering of others, especially those to whom
we are indirectly responsible for their suffering. Therefore, we
should let our congregational prayers reflect our concern for them.
Norman Horn [Others at my church signed this letter as well, names
withheld for privacy.]
The response of the elders was, to my surprise, extraordinarily
positive. We discussed some of the ramifications of them taking
this position. Only one had any concern for it being "too political."
In response, I emphasized that the effects of war are apolitical
and intensely real, and therefore to ignore what's going on is potentially
even more political than standing up for what is right.
The next Sunday morning service, during the "Prayer for
the Church," the elder assigned to the task prayed for peace
and for the innocent affected by war. This has continued for
many weeks on end, with both elders and non-elders doing the same.
It isn't a perfect record at this point, but something is changing.
Now, I have to admit that I have the ear of the eldership already.
I am a part-time minister in this congregation, and thus they could
have been generally more receptive of my proposal because it came
from me. It could be that if you tried the exact course of action
I did, it might not work out so well. But I still contend that
anyone could work with their church in an analogous manner to change
it even a little toward peace. Here are some ideas that might
1) Start by setting the example yourself. When you are asked to
pray in public for the congregation and its concerns, include those
oppressed by war with any prayer offered for family and friends
in the military. Furthermore, make sure that you are praying for
peace in your private life.
2) If and when you engage your congregation more directly, initiate
it by making a request that requires no justification at all. Don't
be afraid to just ask! Send one of your church leaders a very simple
request, something like this: "When we pray for soldiers in
Iraq, could we also pray for the Iraqis who are suffering, especially
our Christian brothers and sisters there, and that God would bless
our enemies and bring them peace." You don’t even have to justify
such a request. That's straight out of Scripture, right?
3) Find others to make the same request together. Talk to some
of your elders/leaders together. Again, keep it simple, but up the
ante a little bit each time.
4) Keep it apolitical. You are not trying to "make people
into libertarians" or anything of the sort. This message is
first and foremost about the people affected by conflict. Our concern
is for them, not for our egos or political views.
5) If at first you don't succeed, try again. You may not get a
good hearing initially, but be patient. Gently keep pushing back.
If it becomes necessary, use the letter above as a model to give
to your church leaders. Keep in mind, I really think this should
be a “letter of last resort” to be used if your leaders refuse to
listen to simpler reason. I carefully constructed this with feedback
from multiple sources, so that it could easily show the self-evident
principles involved. It gives no quarter and I don’t apologize for
that, but know your audience and appeal to their sensibilities.
Of course, some in your church will respond negatively to this
kind of request. They may ask how you can ask a church to pray for
this war, for instance, when there are millions of other
things for which we could pray. What about apartheid in South Africa,
earthquakes in Haiti, or persecuted Christians in China? Could not
the list go on forever if we wanted?
Those critics have a point, but our response should be that there
is a fundamental difference between, say, praying for apartheid
in South Africa – where we are aware of no national influence (and
in my church's case, have none of our church members as missionaries
there) – and these wars. The difference is that this country, the
United States, claims responsibility for their country now,
and hence we are already involved. It is not "our fault"
that Haiti had an earthquake or that Christians in China are being
persecuted (though we may pray for them anyway), but it is in part
our fault that the United States has torn apart the Middle East.
Moreover, churches continue to condone and support such aggression
with little thought either to the consequences for the Arab peoples
or the internal subconscious changes that this has on our own churches.
And what better way to change our own hearts than through the power
of prayer? And what better way to start that process than through
the leadership of the church?
Imagine what would happen if churches across the United States
(and internationally!) were to stop praying for the military alone
and to begin including those oppressed by war in their public prayers
as well. Don't you think that God will help make our hearts ever
more attuned to the oppressed?
If the Bible says that the prayers of the righteous are effective,
and if we believe that prayer affects us as much or more than prayer
affects God, then let us never cease to pray for and support those
who suffer from the horror of war and let us encourage others to
do the same.
Think about some ways that you can be a peaceful voice for peace
in your church. Maybe emulating the story above is one way you can
make a difference. I truly believe this simple idea can change hearts
and minds across the world if, with God's help, we are brave enough
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons
of God." ~ Matthew 5:9
Norman invites you to comment on this article at LibertarianChristians.com.
[send him mail]
is a graduate student in Chemical Engineering at the University
of Texas at Austin and studies theology at the Austin Graduate School
of Theology. He can frequently be found writing on his blog, LibertarianChristians.com,
which focuses on the intersections of liberty and the Christian
faith. He is also active in the UT-Austin
Libertarian Longhorns and Young Americans for Liberty,
and was a recent nominee for Student of the Year by Students